The winning drive in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl was so easy, it almost seemed there was no greatness to it. Four plays, 94 yards, touchdown, victory, book the flights to New Orleans. It had all the drama of 30-second television commercial.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence emerging as a hero in the Tigers’ College Football Playoff semifinal victory over Ohio State ought to have required something heroic, no? Instead, it looked like LeBron James in a layup line.
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Layup 1: Lawrence drops back and finds wideout Justyn Ross for an easy 11-yard gain.
Layup 2: Lawrence scrambles for another 11, taking a hard hit.
Layup 3: Lawrence swims through the rush looking left, gives up on that option and sees Amari Rodgers breaking open to the right. Lawrence throws sharply off his back foot, Rodgers catches it in stride, blows up All-American cornerback Jeff Okudah and continues toward a 38-yard gain.
Slam dunk: Lawrence holds the ball at his hip and fakes as if he’ll run, then stops and throws almost a jump pass to star running back Travis Etienne. He jets through the middle of the OSU defense and carries safety Jordan Fuller the final 3 yards into the end zone for the score that makes it Clemson 29, Ohio State 23.
It took all of 78 seconds.
“There were some huge plays in that game that could have gone one way or another,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day told ESPN following the game. None occurred on the decisive drive.
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On Clemson’s first 12 possessions, seven of which ended with punts, the Tigers averaged 5.57 yards per play. On the last, they averaged 23.5 yards. Ohio State put up no resistance at all when it mattered most.
Of course, there was an overriding reason for this, and several underlying ones.
— Lawrence had performed so brilliantly at various points against the Buckeyes that they entered that final possession aware of all he could do to hurt them, and feared every last bit of it. Lawrence has never lost a game as a starting quarterback in college, and he surely won this one for Clemson.
— He gets rid of the ball quickly: That was the first completion to Ross.
— He runs nimbly, powerfully and authoritatively enough that he ripped off a 67-yard touchdown dash in the first half: That was there in his 11-yard scramble.
— He moved in the pocket and progressed quickly through his reads: That was evident in the throw to Rodgers.
Lawrence’s 107 rushing yards were an asset in the passing game, as well: That’s where the Buckeyes’ linebackers focused their attention as Etienne sneaked in behind them and encountered so little traffic after catching Lawrence’s final throw.
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“We’d been saving that little play-action to Travis the whole game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN. “It just felt like it was the right time to call it right there, and it hit.”
If it ultimately leads to another national championship for Clemson, then the decisive drive by Lawrence in a game that saw the Tigers outgained — and, in many ways, outplayed — will be remembered be as epic and gripping. It was neither. It was ruthless and efficient.
Even the message Lawrence said he delivered to his teammates before taking the field — “Let’s go win it; we’re built for this” — wasn’t exactly the William Wallace “Freedom” speech from “Braveheart.”
None of this makes for a tremendous story. It certainly made for a hell of an ending, though.
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